For a lot of girls, it’s kind of a drag to eat lunch with your dad. Especially when you could be outside playing, hanging out with friends or listening to music in your room. You know dad is around if you need him, so when would the simple act of eating a sandwich with him ever be something to celebrate?
For girls with fathers in prison, just being able to smile at your dad is something to celebrate.
It is, however, something most girls with incarcerated fathers don’t have the luxury of experiencing on a regular basis. Getting to the prison is always an issue. Many girls don’t have the financial means to travel back and forth. Timing is another obstacle. Often, prison visitation hours are very short, and family members are rushed through a meeting.
This leaves very little room for spontaneity or relaxed, meaningful exchanges. Even the simple act of sitting down to lunch, and sharing stories over a meal, is something many children never get to experience with an incarcerated parent.
Girl Scouts of Western Washington’s Girl Scouts Beyond Bars (GSBB) program was created to change the ways in which girls can connect with their incarcerated parents. The program has had great success since it began in 1999, when daughters with mothers from Mission Creek and the Washington Correctional Centers for Women were invited to participate.
In 2010, GSBB expanded its reach to include daughters with fathers at the Monroe Correctional Complex. Girls get to visit their fathers for three hours, once a month, for a Girl Scout troop meeting planned entirely by their fathers (along with staff assistance). This allows the dads to take a leadership role in their daughters’ lives, perhaps for the first time. Dads even plan what badges girls will be working to earn, and the whole process enhances communication between fathers and daughters in remarkable ways.
The feedback from the dads participating is incredibly encouraging. One father said this program gives him “an opportunity to prove to myself, and my family, that I’m a good father.” Another dad said he’s thankful for the “opportunity to help my daughter build self-esteem and confidence.”
Participation in GSBB gives girls more than just time to connect with their fathers. Because girls in any of Girl Scouts of Western Washington’s Outreach programs are Girl Scouts, they participate in troop meetings with their parents, but also participate as any regular Girl Scout would. They go on field trips, visiting urban farms, going roller skating and attending camp. They even sell cookies.
“The program itself is so powerful,” says GSBB Program Manager, Libby Compton, “but the rewards I see are even more so. Girls get one-on-one time with their dads, and get to see their dads stepping up to do something positive.
Plus, girls get support from other girls in the program, which is very special. Only another girl who has a father in prison could really understand what it is you’re going through, and they get to be around girls just like them, helping them feel more like they belong.”
For most of us, spending time with loved ones is something we take for granted. But for fathers and daughters whose lives have been blocked by a prison wall, time means everything. And so does Girl Scouts Beyond Bars, and all that it offers.
One father said that, through the GSBB program, his daughter is learning leadership skills and how to take care of the environment. Most importantly, he notes, “It also lets her make friends with girls she has something in common with. The time I spend with her is precious, and I would not be able to see her without this program.”